What is the difference between the role of a leader and the function of a manager?

What is the difference between the role of a leader and the function of a manager?

People usually interchange leadership with management and leader with manager in their conversations. However, these are distinct concepts especially when we consider the roles and behaviour expected of a leader and a manager. It is therefore important to understand the differences between leading and managing if an organisation is to benefit from both processes. This article discusses the differences between leadership and management, and therefore, the differences between a leader and manager based on their roles. It also discusses leadership approaches/styles: transactional; transformational; action-centred; and situational/contingence leadership.


Who is a leader and who is a manager?

A leader is a person who inspires and influences others towards achieving an organisation’s common purpose. They ensure that the members of their group are motivated to work effectively to achieve the common purpose/goal. In contrast, a manager is a person who ensures that an organisation’s members are working efficiently towards achieving a set goal. This implies that the manager ensures that resource allocation and utilisation is controlled as much as possible. This shows that what differentiates a leader from a manager is the priorities selected and behaviour: a manager prioritises completing tasks even if it means coercing people while a leader prioritises wining people’s support to achieve the tasks. Where a leader tries to inspire people, the manager tries to coerce people to work using both positive and negative reinforcements.


Then, how is leadership different from management?

Leadership is defined differently by both practitioners and academics. For purposes of this article, leadership is defined as the process through which people are inspired, motivated and influenced to perform tasks in a coordinated fashion to achieve a common goal. Achievement of the goal requires mobilisation and allocation of scarce resources such as people, finances, technology, etc. This implies that the process requires a leader to have a people-centred perception in carrying out their duties such that the followers are inspired to work as expected. Such inspiration will not be possible if followers’ needs are not catered for and their values respected. This means that a leader must ensure that followers’ goals are congruent with organisational goals. This is a challenge since sometimes those goals conflict. For example, followers may focus on pushing the organisation to raise their salaries yet the organisation is focusing on cutting costs to save money and invest in long-term projects. The leader will thus need to negotiate with the followers and strike a balance between the conflicting goals. This negotiation will involve giving the followers hope that their needs will be catered for and their goals better met in future when organisational goals are prioritised today. This will work when followers believe in the mission that the leader is pursuing. Therefore, leadership involves carrying out certain duties that support achievement of the mission:

  • Setting objectives which will be the basis of performance appraisal;
  • Formulating tasks leading to the achievement of the set objectives;
  • Assigning tasks to particular individuals as their work roles;
  • Allocating resources to individuals to carry out assigned tasks;
  • Monitoring individuals to ensure that assigned tasks are carried out as planned and making corrective action in case of unacceptable deviation;
  • Rewarding positive performance and encouraging improvement in performance through motivation.
  • Monitoring the environment to check whether the objectives are still relevant in the prevailing conditions. Change is facilitated if required.
  • Evaluating overall performance: checking whether objectives were achieved and making appropriate decisions. This constitutes a control system with a feedback mechanism.


What leadership styles/approaches can be adopted?

A leader can carry out the above duties using different approaches. For example, they can exercise situational leadership in which case they are more of an autocrat when the situation requires strict control to meet set objectives but be a democrat encouraging employee participation when there is some allowance for deviation from the set objectives. This implies that a leader, in using this approach, can show traits of a manager as well as a leader depending on situation at hand. This is in agreement with contingency theory that the most appropriate leadership approach/style is the one which enables achievement of objectives amidst prevailing conditions.

Alternatively, a leader will display transactional leadership style when they view their role as offering rewards for the work done: the deal is about mutual benefit between the leader and their followers. The leader can reward a follower using either monetary benefits or an informal praise in public to encourage the follower to keep performing the work as expected. This implies that transactional leadership is a give-get relationship between the leader and his followers: it involves a something-for-something contract whether formally or informally. That something can be a promoting a follower in return to the follower’s displayed loyalty. This means that a transactional leader behaves more like a manager since they try to control employee behaviour using rewards and punishments. This is why transactional leadership can be referred to as managerial leadership style. The managerial behaviour of a transaction leader reinforces resistance to change. To the contrary, transformational leadership style facilitates change: it works against the status quo. It should be noted that a transformational leader is people-centred while a transactional leader is task-centred.

This people-centeredness involves 4Is: Individual consideration—each follower and his goals are valued thus helping the individual to reach them, the leader acting as an employee-coach; Inspirational motivation—ability to motivate followers and inspiring them to work on achieving organisation’s mission and vision; Idealised influence—gaining trust and respect as a role model in the organisation; and Intellectual stimulation—ability to stimulate followers’ creative potentials through allowing them to exercise independent thinking and challenging long-held beliefs and organisation culture.

The 4Is enable transformational leaders to outperform transactional leaders since the former go an extra mile to value followers’ goals in order to motivate and influence the followers while enabling them to be creative and innovative. Whereas transactional leadership is better than transactional leadership in developing people and improving organisational performance, a leader can display both approaches depending on prevailing situation: they are just two ends of a continuum. This is in agreement with contingence theory already described. It can be concluded that what determines a leader’s approach to leadership is mainly the situation at hand though their and their followers’ traits/personality, and tasks at hand have a great impact. This is related to John Adair’s action-centred approach that considers three needs: task needs—duties to be carried out such as setting objectives and controlling deviations; individual needs—what is required to enable the individual to perform as expected; and group needs—what is required to make the group function as a team.


Then, what is management?

Recall that transactional leadership is also called managerial leadership because of the controlling tendencies of a transactional leader. This implies that management is a process through which a manager controls employees’ behaviour and actions to achieve stated goals. To achieve that level of control, the manager has to carry out “POCD” functions: Planning—formulating the mission and setting objectives to achieve the mission; Organising—formulating tasks, assigning them to individuals and allocating resources; Controlling—monitoring individuals’ actions/performance and making corrective decisions where necessary; and Directing—ensuring that organisational members are working towards achieving the set objectives. You can realise that these are the duties already listed under leadership!

Therefore, what distinguishes leadership from management is the approach as shown in table 1.


Table 1. Distinguishing Leadership from Management

Function Leadership (A leader……) Management (A manager……)

Formulates a vision and mission and sets objectives to achieve the mission. May NOT wait to see that objectives are achieved!

Focuses on the future: initiates change.

Formulates a vision and mission, sets objectives AND ensures that the set objectives are achieved as planned.

Focuses on the present: maintains the status quo.


Formulates tasks and assigns them to individuals and allocates resources while mindful of people’s needs: everything is people-centred.


Right things are done: focus is effectiveness.

Formulates tasks and assigns them to individuals and allocates resources while prioritising the tasks: everything is task-centred.


Things are done rightly: Focus is on efficiency.

Controlling Monitors individuals’ actions/performance and makes corrective decisions through using his influence. Monitors individuals’ actions/performance and makes corrective decisions using his authority.
Directing Develops and empowers followers to carry out tasks and achieve objectives: builds people’s commitment. Displays “soft”/people skills. Controls followers’ behaviour and actions in carrying out tasks to achieve objectives: demands people’s compliance. Displays “hard”/task-centred skills.


From table 1, it can be concluded that a leader is an influencer and an enabler of people/followers working towards a planned future stated as the mission and objectives while a manager is a controller who ensures that the current operations are following planned processes and procedures to achieve stated objectives. Both a leader and a manager are vital if an organisation is to compete and improve performance: a manager must lead and a leader must manage. Their roles are complementary and very vital according to the prevailing situation.

If you want to play an integral role as a better business leader, we at iQualify UK offer various qualifications that can help you understand the concept of effective leadership and management better along with getting you a recognised British qualification; including Chartered Manager Pathway as well as our MBA programme.



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